By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
NASHVILLE – Ole Miss was unable to hold on to first-half prosperity as Vanderbilt began the final 20 minutes on a 12-5 run and went on to an 84-74 SEC win before 14,134 fans at Memorial Gym Wednesday night.
The loss continues the Rebels’ SEC-opening losing streak that has now reached four games. Ole Miss, which is now 5-47 at Memorial Gym, is back on the road Saturday afternoon at LSU.
Balanced scoring, most of it from forcing the issue in the paint, helped Ole Miss take a 42-39 lead at the halftime.
In the second half, Ole Miss (12-7, 0-4 SEC) battled back from a nine-point deficit, and when freshman Dundrecous Nelson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, the Rebels had a 66-65 lead with 6 minutes, 42 seconds to play.
This time Vanderbilt didn’t fold. VU guard John Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer, hit a 3-point shot with 5:39 left. The Commodores led 68-66 and didn’t trail again.
Nelson and Chris Warren led Ole Miss with 17 points.
“We hang around, hang around, and the next thing you know we get back-to-back 3s by Nelson, and we’re up one,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “But the one guy you can’t leave open is Jenkins.”
The Vanderbilt sophomore entered the game leading the SEC with 3.1 3-pointers per game.
Foul trouble caught up with the Rebels, starting forward Reggie Buckner fouling out with more than six minutes to play, and Ole Miss was unable to keep Vanderbilt out of the paint in the second half whether by zone or man defense.
The Commodores (13-4, 2-2) shot 48 percent and out-rebounded the Rebels 41-25.
Ole Miss shot 46.9 percent in the first half but just 34.3 percent in the second when Vanderbilt played zone defense almost exclusively.
“We got good looks, but when you get in there you have to finish,” reserve post Steadman Short said. “You have to keep your mind on the rim and finish.”
With an approach that limited 3-point attempts and focused on penetration, the Rebels drove into the heart of the defense and hit contested shots in the first half.
Buckner, Nick Williams, Zach Graham and Terrance Henry all scored on physical moves, most of them more than once.
The Commodores knocked down a few early 3-pointers to take a 15-6 lead. The Rebels closed the gap and finally took the lead with 4:25 left in the half when Henry got a step on Jeffery Taylor, got the bucket, the foul and the free throw to make it 34-31.
The lead was five when Taylor hit two free throws with 3.9 seconds left.
Four players had at least six points in the half led by Warren’s nine points. Ten turnovers forced to three given up helped keep the Rebels in front.
“We were aggressive, but when you get to the center of the zone you’ve got to score,” Kennedy said. “That’s easier said than done against their length and athleticism. What we can’t do now is allow this to be a hangover.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600